State must push efforts to increase tech-driven economy

As we near the dawning of a new year and reflect on West Virginia’s past, present and future, we are reminded of the age-old wisdom that change is inevitable.

Whether we like it or not, our world is evolving, and that is especially true in business, where the pace of a global economy increases by the hour, if not the minute.

As we prepare for 2020, West Virginia must do more to prepare for the here and now, as well as the future.

The final issue of the State Journal for 2019 delves into the high-technology sector of our economy and what we see as a promising future. The story appears on page A4 of the Preston County Journal.

As we’ve seen here in North Central West Virginia, thanks to the efforts of the High Technology Foundation and its CEO, Jim Estep, as well as the outstanding work of West Virginia University, there is tremendous opportunity in technology-related commerce.

But that only happens if West Virginia leaders begin to leverage our assets and learn to stress diversification of the economy.

It’s a topic that has been given tremendous lip service over the years, but has failed to reach levels of sustainable fruition.

Yes, West Virginia is a proud natural resources state. Our coal has powered the country for generations; our natural gas will combine with that commodity to continue to do so for the foreseeable future, despite efforts to move the country much more rapidly to other sources.

The state, nation and world need West Virginia coal and natural gas.

But the Mountain State can’t continue to exist, and its businesses and people can’t thrive, without a commitment to developing the state’s technology portfolio.

As Steve Roberts, president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, told writer Charles Young, “Technology is leading improvements to lifestyle, health and productivity in ways previously unimagined.

“The digital revolution is reshaping our workplaces. People can now work remotely, have access to limitless amounts of information and work faster and more accurately due to technology.”

Roberts is spot-on with that assessment, but it is important to note that in West Virginia, that is only partly true.

Far too many stretches of our great state remain without reliable broadband access. And that, along with a lack of well-trained personnel in the workplace, must be a become a focal point for change in 2020 and beyond.

It was recently reported in these pages that the FCC has finally admitted that its “map” of coverage speeds and reliability was flawed.

“Through the investigation, staff discovered that the MF-II coverage maps submitted by Verizon, U.S. Cellular, and T-Mobile likely overstated each provider’s actual coverage and did not reflect on-the-ground performance in many instances,” the report stated. “Only 62.3% of staff-driven tests achieved at least the minimum download speed predicted by the coverage maps — with U.S. Cellular achieving that speed in only 45% of such tests, T-Mobile in 63.2% of tests, and Verizon in 64.3% of tests.”

That discovery only took place thanks to the dedicated effort of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who championed the issue and called upon West Virginians to share their stories with the FCC. And Mountain State residents responded with a preponderance of evidence.

While Manchin has taken the FCC to task for inaccurate data, fellow U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., has ramped up efforts to secure additional funding and to keep the issue on the front burner.

Both of our U.S. senators should be applauded for their efforts. We believe we will see improvement in broadband service in the coming years.

But what will West Virginia do with it when it comes?

People like Jim Estep have long banged the drum, often in the wilderness, calling for more state support. In today’s edition, he outlines six viable ways that government, communities and industries can improve the technology sector.

It is a must-read for any serious government, business or community leader looking to help their state move forward.

But again, until words lead to further action, they are just words — hopes and dreams — but to this extent, yet to be fulfilled.

It is time West Virginia moves truly into the 21st century, not by killing coal and natural gas extraction, but by leveraging it.

It is time that state leaders look for innovative programs, incentives and marketing to re-tell the Mountain State’s remarkable story.

Born from the throes of the Civil War, amid the rural hills and valleys, a great state — one of tremendous scenic beauty and caring, commited people — has emerged.

And while coal and natural gas will always course through the state’s blood, it is its people who truly make us what we are — and what we will become.

Article originally published by The Preston County post & Journal on December 17, 2019